36 out of 40 people found the following review useful:
Gary170459 from Derby, UK
26 February 2005
You're either an all-out fan of the exploits of schoolboys Billy
Bunter, Tom Merry, Jimmy Silver etc from the imagination of Frank
Richards (Charles Hamilton) as I am, or you won't hope to understand
the attraction at all. This is especially esoteric stuff because it
relates to the Greyfriars school stories by characters and events but
compared to the Master's writings this is water compared to wine. With
the technical limitations of 1950's BBC (or ITV) live TV programmes
it's not really surprising, even now when these plays could be handled
so much better from an acting and production point of view one's own
imagination is always the best place to replay a favourite story.
Although the shows were centred on the perfectly cast Gerald Campion in
the tour de force role of Billy Bunter, he's (luckily maybe) never
intruded upon my imagination when reading any of the original stories.
Charles Hamilton (1876-1961) is in the Guinness Book of Records for
having written more words in his lifetime than anyone else - the
equivalent of 1000 full length novels. One of his many thousands of
literary creations, Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School came to life in
the Magnet, a weekly British boys story paper 1908-1940, and lived on
in novels published 1947-1965 (although the last were ghosted by a
substitute). Although incredibly popular and influential at the time
over the years since the '60's his star has waned, partly thanks to the
changing times, but mainly due to his non-promotion by indifferent
rights owners. With the result that now hardly anyone under 50 years
old has even heard of Billy Bunter. The TV shows ran throughout the
'50's, a testament to just how popular the stories were. A testament to
the modern BBC in their zealous endeavours to bury or alter modern
perceptions of the past up until 1970 (in other words, pre-pc) is their
continued refusal to even consider releasing any surviving episodes.
Why not just have done and burn the tapes then, or is letting them rot
in the cans the favoured cheaper option?
"Backing up Bunter" broadcast 9.9.56: Bunter has 200 lines to do for
Quelch, but gets The Famous Five to help him write them out with the
promise of a car ride later in the day for them all courtesy of his
father's male secretary, Tregg. The car doesn't turn up, but what does
is that Bunter's father has been robbed of £5000, Tregg has vanished,
and a strange surly person has taken moved into a cottage close to the
school.... The ancient school porter Gosling, appears in this as very
helpful, around 50 years old with (thinning) black hair - not quite how
most people would have imagined him! Richards had used variants of this
plot from the Magnet story paper of the '10's to a hardback book in the
'50's, so at the time both young and old would have been on familiar
ground! The earlier series of these shows were performed live twice,
once for the kids, then later in the evening for their Dads.
"Bunter on the Warpath" broadcast 7.10.56: A familiar story for
devotees updated to include that new fangled invention, the wireless.
Bunter given lines by Quelch plots revenge by stealing and temporarily
hiding his Masters radio. Nasty pair Skinner and Snoop also given lines
to do take revenge on Quelch by stealing and hiding his Beethoven gold
medallion. The 2 threads converge into a satisfying denouement. Young
Melvyn Hayes played Skinner to the life, and yet it seemed that all of
his later roles were nice guys. Liberties of course were taken with the
original stories, settings, even characters to fit into a live 30
minute TV play, but it was a job done well enough to get my moderate
applause half a century later.
"Billy Bunter's Burglar" broadcast 27.6.1959: A much simplified
re-tread of a favourite Magnet tale from 1928, where Bunter is snooping
treacle in the middle of the night, in the dark bumps into the Fifth
form master Mr. Prout, and punches him on the nose. Prout thinks that
his obtuse and sometimes violent pupil, Coker, has committed the
dastardly deed and has him marked for expulsion from Greyfriars....
This one has young David Hemmings miscast as a stuttering bespectacled
George Potter and young Michael Crawford miscast as an unusually silent
Johnny Bull, these two and everyone else revolving like admiring
satellites around well cast thirty-something Campion as Bunter.
"Double Bunter" broadcast 3.6.1961: Basically a one-dimensional
re-tread of a three-dimensional 1919 Richards story - Billy gets fed up
at school and temporarily swaps places with his identical cousin Wally
who's been staying nearby. What happens next is obvious to devotees,
the character change in Billy amazes the natives. As it was broadcast
live on TV, the 4 bits of film inserted into it meant valuable time for
re-positioning etc! Campion as both of the Bunters was excellent and
believable, even if playing the 15 year old Billy in his 30's. The rest
of the "schoolboy" cast were pretty deplorable - they had to be as it
was Campion's show from start to finish. John Melford as Mr. Quelch was
the only big let down - much too soft and personable! Kynaston Reeves
who had previously played him was miles better in the role, although by
the end of his tenure in the role was losing interest and fluffing his
lines a little. The BBC presented Campion with a 16mm copy of this
episode when the shows finally ended in 1961.
To me and maybe about a thousand people around the world, wonderful
garbage, to everyone else garbage. Isn't that enough people for the BBC
or some company to release an expensive collectors edition DVD of the
surviving episodes, as most of us fans would pay an awful lot of money
to see these shows properly.
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